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Kuali Research Project Experiences Lean Bench in Action

Enterprise Systems Renewal (ESR) is not just about upgrading outdated and inefficient business systems. Review and improvement of business processes is an equally important part of the program. The combination ensures that as outdated systems are replaced, the processes used to access the systems are updated and efficient to work with today’s robust enterprise systems.

UC San Diego’s Lean Bench team conducts process reviews for ESR projects using Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology. LSS improves performance by removing waste and reducing variation in any given process.

The first project the Lean Bench team tackled was a review with research administrators from Health Sciences, Academic Affairs, Research Affairs and Marine Sciences, who will be transitioning to the Kuali Research solution.

Over the multi-month project, Lean Bench members, the Kuali Research project team and a group of subject matter experts from across campus teamed up to combine four discrete processes into one optimized process.

Vice Chancellor for Research Sandra Brown shared her enthusiasm for Kuali Research and process improvement, saying, “We are excited about this initiative because it will streamline many processes, making it easier for faculty to submit proposals and track awards. Lean Bench puts us on a path to better utilize new tools, such as Kuali, to support our research mission.” 

“LSS Methodology at Its Best”

The Kuali Lean Bench work involved examination of various processes for research proposal routing, review and approval. The university’s diverse research community involves hundreds of academic departments that create and route sponsored research proposals for our researchers.

To add to the complexity of the process, research proposals are supported by four separate sponsored project offices and four separate processes. Proposal travel from a department to the sponsored projects offices for review and approval creates numerous opportunities for variability to occur and can lead to significant delays.   

“We quickly identified that having four separate processes created numerous friction points,” explains Nicole Joyce, change lead for the Kuali Research project. “From a practical standpoint, it’s not efficient to configure the Kuali Research system with four separate workflows. From a broader perspective, trends in research are moving toward collaboration with more multi-disciplinary projects. When you have collaborative projects, you need one way of doing business.”

Step 1 involved examining each process to understand what currently takes place and identify the variations. 

Representatives from the four sponsored project offices and departmental research administrators were then brought together for a Kaizenevent – a combination of a full-day session and a half-day session designed to take a deep dive into the problem and generate solutions.

“The key was to make sure each functional area understood how other areas worked – the how and why,” explains Shawn Munro, Lean Bench manager. “And that facilitates a discussion toward establishing one best practice that can borrow pieces from each.”

Adds Joyce, “Examining the routing processes, and how we accomplished it, turned out to be the perfect application of LSS methodology at its best.”

Process Improvement in Action

The process identified ways to both increase opportunity and mitigate risk. For example, 33% of proposals submitted did not follow existing checks and balances before submission because the process was overly inefficient. If the proposal includes high-risk elements that require department leadership to be involved in review and approval of the proposal, skipping the checks and balances creates risk.   

By contrast, a process with too many “hard stops” could potentially reduce overall university grant income by $400M annually, if good proposals never make it through an overly burdensome routing and approval process. With more than 5,000 annual proposal submissions and volume increasing each year, now is the time to take action.   

The proposed solution creates a more streamlined approval pathway, but also better identifies proposals with “critical criteria” (i.e., risk) for enhanced review at the department leadership level.   

Following the Lean Bench work, a small-scale pilot project was implemented to test out the new workflow. It was soon discovered that a 60-day lag in the average submission process was reduced to eight days with streamlined procedures in place.

What’s more, the reduction in lag time during the pilot was achieved solely through improving existing processes. No technical changes were made, since the Kuali Research solution has not yet gone live. Explains Joyce, “The generalization is, we can use LSS methodology to improve a process and pilot without a new system and with willing participants; the results are incredibly promising. Carrying out the pilot rounds out the whole LSS exercise.”

Read "Using Business Process Improvement to Better Support Our Research Enterprise" for more on the Lean Bench / Kuali Research project.

Learn more about the Kuali Research project.

Category: Research Administration, News